How old do you look?

I was going to just put this in quick hits, but it’s too much fun not to get it’s own post.  A Microsoft website that uses some algorithm to guess your age and gender (pretty accurately) by your photo.  Here it is getting my daughter just right and me six years too young in my current profile photo.


Had a lot of fun with this using a number of different photos.  It had me as high as 46 and as low as 36.  On average, probably low 40’s– not bad.  And yes, always as a man :-).

And here’s a family Christmas photo.  Would love to know what it is about my son David (15) that it always thinks he’s late 20’s.

Screenshot - 4_30_2015 , 9_15_48 PM

Let me know how it does for you.

How lead lead to the Baltimore riots

Well, not exactly, but sort of.  First, the Post:

Before his controversial death earlier this month while in police custody, which has set this city aflame in rioting, the life of Freddie Gray was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law, and an inability to focus on anything for very long. Many of those problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner, which resulted in an undisclosed settlement.

Reports of Gray’s history with lead come at a time when the city and nation are still trying to understand the full ramifications of lead poisoning. Advocates and studies say it can diminish cognitive function, increase aggression and ultimately exacerbate the cycle of poverty that is already exceedingly difficult to break.

Kevin Drum, despite being in the midst of serious cancer treatment, cannot resist weighing in with a great post on the lead and crime link (of which he’s written extensively– this is an assigned reading in my criminal justice policy class).

When Freddie Gray was 22 months old, he had a tested blood lead level of 37 micrograms per deciliter. This is an absolutely astronomical amount. Freddie never even had the slightest chance of growing up normally. Lead poisoning doomed him from the start to a life of heightened aggression, poor learning abilities, and weak impulse control. His life was a tragedy set in motion the day he was born.

But even from the midst of my chemo haze, I want to make a short, sharp point about this that goes far beyond just Gray’s personal tragedy. It’s this: thanks both to lead paint and leaded gasoline, there were lots of teenagers like Freddie Gray in the 90s. This created a huge and genuinely scary wave of violent crime, and in response we turned many of our urban police forces into occupying armies. This may have been wrong even then, but it was hardly inexplicable. Decades of lead poisoning really had created huge numbers of scarily violent teenagers, and a massive, militaristic response may have seemed like the only way to even begin to hold the line.

But here’s the thing: that era is over. Individual tragedies like Freddie Gray are still too common, but overall lead poisoning has plummeted. As a result, our cities are safer because our kids are fundamentally less dangerous. To a large extent, they are now normal teenagers, not lead-poisoned predators.

This is important, because even if you’re a hard-ass law-and-order type, you should understand that we no longer need urban police departments to act like occupying armies. The 90s are gone, and today’s teenagers are just ordinary teenagers…

We just don’t. We live in a different, safer era, and it’s time for all of us—voters, politicians, cops, parents—to get this through our collective heads. Generation Lead is over, thank God. Let’s stop pretending it’s always and forever 1993. Reform is way overdue.

Photo of the day

From Telegraph’s photos of the week:

Lightning brightens the night sky over Washington, DC, during a storm

Lightning brightens the night sky over Washington, DC, during a stormPicture: Mladen Antonov/AFP

Guns for everyone!

Apparently we are not safe enough here in NC.  Clearly we need more guns.  Guns for everyone!  Among the more interesting/disturbing provisions in what the NC Republicans are offering us:

House Bill 562 would require schools to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns onto school property as long as they leave the gun locked in their vehicle. It would allow citizens to sue local governments that try to restrict the right to carry concealed weapons.

It also would require property and business owners who don’t allow weapons to place a large sign to that effect in a prominent location. A violation of such a notice would no longer be a misdemeanor, just an infraction.

The bill would ban doctors or psychiatrists from asking patients in writing whether they own or have access to guns. They would be banned from passing that information along to anyone, even law enforcement, even if a patient were to express a desire to harm himself or others.

Glad to know that the “2nd amendment rights” of those intent on harming others trump any reasonable concern of public safety.  And what’s with this ban on asking “in writing”?  So there’s– heaven forbid– no written record someone own’s a gun?!  Can’t have the one-world government knowing that information and swooping in with black helicopters to take the guns away.

Kristof on Baltimore

Sometimes the knee-jerk tendency of journalists to take the “both sides…” approach is really annoying, but I think Kristof gets it right in this column on Baltimore:

It’s outrageous when officers use excessive force against young, unarmed African-American men, who are 21 times as likely to be shot dead by the police as young white men. It’s also outrageous when rioters loot shops or attack officers…

President Obama set just the right tone.

“When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing,” Obama said. “When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities.”

Absolutely.  There’s simply no excuse for that kind of crime.  (Though, it still is useful to understand the social and historical context that leads to it).  That said, Kristof rightly returns to the bigger and more important picture here:

Yet as Obama, Anthony and other leaders also noted, there are crucial underlying inequities that demand attention. The rioting distracts from those inequities, which are the far larger burden on America’s cities…

If wealthy white parents found their children damaged by lead poisoning, consigned to dismal schools, denied any opportunity to get ahead, more likely to end up in prison than college, harassed and occasionally killed by the police — why, then we’d hear roars of grievance. And they’d be right to roar: Parents of any color should protest, peacefully but loudly, about such injustices.

The real crisis isn’t one night of young men in the street rioting. It’s something perhaps even more inexcusable — our own complacency at the systematic long-term denial of equal opportunity to people based on their skin color and ZIP code. [emphasis mine]

Of course, violence and burning buildings are always going to capture the attention of the newsmedia (especially television) more than the massively important social and historical context, but, at least there’s some excellent print journalism (Kristof is just one of many examples I’ve seen) that really understands what’s going on.

Judges are different

So, unlimited campaign money is a bad thing when judges are involved, says John Roberts.  Judges are different.  Mark Joseph Stern writes:

On Wednesday, Roberts halted his crusade against campaign finance reform in a stunning reversal that almost nobody—myself included—saw coming. In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, Roberts joined the liberals to uphold a Florida measure that barred elected judges from personally soliciting campaign funds. (This is only the second time Roberts has sided with the four liberals against four dissenting conservatives; the first time was in the 2012 Obamacare case.) In his opinion, Roberts explains:

Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money.

Roberts’ logic here is simple and commonsensical. A state’s judiciary can function healthily only if citizens are content that judges apply the law impartially. If a judicial candidate is permitted to personally ask individuals to donate to her campaign, she may be tempted to treat her donors more favorably in the courtroom. Even if the judge herself remains unbiased, a reasonable observer may still believe that when she rules in favor of a donor, his donation influenced her thinking—consciously or unconsciously. This risk of corruption, actual or perceived, is enough to justify Florida’s narrow, sensible restriction on speech.

Why, then, does the hypothetical risk of corruption not justify restrictions onlegislative campaign finance and solicitation? Roberts doesn’t say, exactly—but the answer likely has something to do with judicial dignity. The conservative justices seemed skeptical of this notion at oral arguments, but between then and now, Roberts seems to have realized that permitting judges to panhandle would seriously undermine “public confidence in judicial integrity.” Roberts just isn’t that concerned about public confidence in legislative integrity—perhaps because he’s a judge, not a legislator, and understands that when judges beg people for money then rule in their favor, the principle of impartiality takes a huge hit. (On the other hand, Roberts seems to think that legislators voting in the interests of their highest donor is just democracy in action.)

Of course, judges actually are different, but it seems to me if you believe in “public confidence in judicial integrity” you damn well ought to believe in public confidence in legislative integrity.  And if Roberts thinks our crazy, post Citizens United campaign finance regime has not undermined public confidence in legislative integrity he’s got his head in the sand half-way to China.  But, of course, Roberts is a judge, and judges are special.

Photo of the day

This is really cool– a Smithsonian gallery of Lake Michigan, which is currently so clear you can see 19th centurry shipwrecks on the bottom.

The 121-foot brig James McBride lies in 5 to 15 feet of water near Sleeping Bear Point.

The Coast Guard’s Facebook page reports: “Late in 1848, the McBride sailed to the Atlantic Ocean to pick up a cargo of salt at Turk Island. On her return she stopped at Nova Scotia and added codfish to her manifest. She delivered her cargo to Chicago on December 4, 1848. This trip created a sensation because it was believed to be the first cargo carried direct from the Atlantic to a Lake Michigan port.”

US Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City

Tea Party amok in NC

The embarrassments from the North Carolina legislature just keep coming.  Any semi-intelligent person ought to be embarrassed to have voted for or support these bozos.  Now we’ve got a state senator who thinks we need to require that HS students learn the value of the Gold Standard.  Seriously.  And if the damn High Schools can’t get this right, maybe they need to add a class!

— The state Senate will vote Wednesday on whether to add the gold standard and other conservative principles to the state’s high school curriculum.

Senate Bill 562, sponsored by Sen. David Curtis, R-Lincoln, builds on a law passed in 2011 requiring the addition of a “Founding Principles” curriculum to the state’s history standards.

The curriculum, a model bill from conservative free-market think tank American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, requires students to receive education on the nation’s “Founding Philosophy and Principles” as found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

“We have some concerns about how DPI implemented the course,” Curtis told the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, referring to the state Department of Public Instruction.

He said his bill “adds a few more principles, but it mainly instructs DPI to make sure every student takes the founding principles course before they graduate.

“If this is not implemented properly, we may have to add another course,” he added.

The five principles to be added to the curriculum are as follows:

  • “Constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt”
  • “Money with intrinsic value”
  • “Strong defense and supremacy of civil authority over military”
  • “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”
  • “Eternal vigilance by ‘We the People”’

“Money with intrinsic value – is that in the Federalist Papers?” asked Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.

“Yes, it is,” Curtis replied, with agreement from Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

In fact, it is not. A search of all 85 letters that make up the Federalist Papers turns up no mention of money with intrinsic value. It is, however, taken verbatim from the ALEC model bill. [emphasis mine]

Ouch, the stupid!!  (Nice Planet Money piece on the Gold Standard– though all you really need to know is that Glenn Beck loves it).  Not to mention the absurdity of trying to micro-manage the high school History curriculum.  All  decent classes on American Government and early American history cover, “Founding Philosophy and Principles” as found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.”  What they don’t do is cover right-wing talking points.  Ugh.

Marriage has already been redifined

First, I read Mark Joseph Stern’s take on yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments:

Many court watchers, myself included, speculated that Chief Justice John Robertsmight swing in favor of marriage equality this time around, in large part to avoid a seemingly partisan 5–4 split. But Roberts didn’t appear to be playing the role of swing vote on Tuesday morning. When Bonauto said gay couples hoped to “join” the institution of marriage, Roberts suggested that they were instead looking to “redefine” it [emphasis mine], since marriage was defined as one man, one woman throughout history.

And then Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent summary of oral arguments and Justice Kennedy’s fixation on dignity:

So there is a rather extraordinary moment Tuesday morning, as the Supreme Court hears historic arguments in the marriage equality cases grouped under Obergefell v. Hodges, when Kennedy finds himself in an argument with John Bursch, Michigan’s special assistant attorney general, about whether marriage is a dignity-conferring enterprise, or not. Bursch, defending his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, is explaining that the purpose of marriage is not to confer dignity but to keep parents bonded to their biological children…

Bursch explains that if marriage is expanded to include same-sex couples, the whole purpose of the institution will change. According to him, that view of marriage is “keeping the couple bound to that child forever,” whereas the new purpose (once gay couples are allowed to wed) will be about “their emotional commitment to each other.” [emphasis mine]

Hello!  That’s already happened!  Raise your hand if you think modern marriage is not substantially about the emotional commitment to each other of two people.  More Dahlia:

It is so strange to contemplate that ours is the sort of hyper-puritanical society that can’t acknowledge that the reason people marry is some combination of procreative purpose, emotional connection, and sex. That thankfully we needn’t pick just one. But oral argument proceeds like a Save the Children video, in which one must choose a single, lofty reason for marriage, close your eyes, and think of the queen.

All this reminds me of a great essay from Stephanie Coontz a few years back (that I continue to assign to my classes) that very much makes the point that while the name “marriage” has remained the same, the institution itself has undergone massive change:

Marriage has already been radically transformed – in a way that makes gay marriage not only inevitable, as Vice President Biden described it in an interview late last year, but also quite logical.

We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.

For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children’s unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals. Sometimes, to consolidate inheritances, parents prevented their younger children from marrying at all. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Often, servants, slaves and paupers were forbidden to wed.

But a little more than two centuries ago, people began to believe that they had a right to choose their partners on the basis of love rather than having their marriages arranged to suit the interests of parents or the state.

Love, not money, became the main reason for getting married, and more liberal divorce laws logically followed…

But huge as the repercussions of the love revolution were, they did not make same-sex marriage inevitable, because marriage continued to be based on differing roles and rights for husbands and wives: Wives were legally dependent on their husbands and performed specific wifely duties. This was part of what marriage cemented in society, and the reason marriage was between men and women. Only when distinct gender roles ceased to be the organizing principle of marriage – in just the past 40 years – did we start down the road to legalizing unions between two men or two women…

People now decide for themselves who and when – and whether – to marry. When they do wed, they decide for themselves whether to have children and how to divide household tasks. If they cannot agree, they are free to leave the marriage.

If gay marriage is legally recognized in this country, it will have little impact on the institution of marriage. In fact, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage – an indication that it’s not just the president’s views that are “evolving” – is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the profound revolutions in marriage that have already taken place.

So, yes, marriage has historically been between a woman and a man, but that does not change the fact that it is complete ahistorical ignorance to suggest the institution has not undergone massive change.  Whatever the court ultimately decides in this case, to argue that marriage, as our society currently understands and practices it, is based largely on procreation and discrete gender roles is simply at odds with what marriage has become in the modern world.

Photo of the day

From Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A egret stays on the tree in a forest during the sunset in China

An egret stands in a tree at sunset in ChinaPicture: Alamy

Chart of the day: the non-rise of political independents

Seth Masket makes a nice counter-point in response to a piece about the “rise of independent voters.”  Well, actually, not so much:

Rather, the percent of Americans who describe themselves as independent is on the rise. The percent of voters who do so is not. Here’s some evidence from the American National Election Studies from 1952 to 2012, charting the percent of Americans who describe themselves as independent:

If you separate those who voted in the most recent election from those who did not, you see two very different trends. Non-voters increasingly are calling themselves independent, while the percent of voters who call themselves independent has been flat for four decades.

It presumably has some importance that this is happening, but as for significant political implications, the fact that this movement is restricted to non-voters means there’s no reason to expect political parties to respond.

Pope Francis versus climate change

The Pope Francis awesomeness continues.  Now he is looking to take the environmental stewardship aspect of Catholic social teaching seriously and use his position to fight against climate change.  Go Francis!  Favorite part?  Conservatives are freaking out!  How dare Pope Francis rely on “science” and concern for how climate change affects the world’s poor?  Doesn’t he know that institutes sponsored by the Koch brothers have determined human-caused climate change to be a liberal hoax?

Washington — Since his first homily in 2013,Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, topVatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared by a committee of Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.

“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, said in an interview. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”

Oh, those so-called “experts”!  Damn them and their “science”!  Clearly, we should ignore the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and put our trusts in political flacks who ultimately make money off of fossil fuels.  Silly Pope.

Honestly, I really don’t think this will have much impact in the alternate reality that is Republican politics, but it would be nice if it could make some squirm just a little bit:

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr. Boehner should prepare for uncomfortable moments. Mr. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming?’”

In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.

Several conservative Catholic intellectuals who expect the pope’s message to bolster the vast majority of scientists who hold that climate change is induced by human activity, including Robert P. George of Princeton University, have published articles reminding Catholics that papal pronouncements on science are not necessarily sound or binding.

It really is kind of amazing (and wonderful) that the contemporary Catholic church could actually produce a leader who is so focused on making a positive difference in the world based– especially for the poor– rather than fighting, narrow, small ideological battles over a right-wing social agenda.

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